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The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) (conventionally pronounced /ˈsnɪk/) was one of the principal organizations of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. It emerged from a series of student meetings led by Ella Baker held at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina in April 1960. SNCC grew into a large organization with many supporters in the North who helped raise funds to support SNCC's work in the South, allowing full-time SNCC workers to have a $10 a week salary. Many unpaid volunteers also worked with SNCC on projects in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, and Maryland.

SNCC played a major role in the sit-ins and freedom rides, a leading role in the 1963 March on Washington, Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party over the next few years. SNCC's major contribution was in its field work, organizing voter registration drives all over the South, especially in Georgia and Mississippi.

A final SNCC legacy is the destruction of the psychological shackles which had kept black southerners in physical and mental peonage; SNCC helped break those chains forever. It demonstrated that ordinary women and men, young and old, could perform extraordinary tasks.

—Julian Bond[1]

In the later 1960s, led by fiery leaders such as Stokely Carmichael, SNCC focused on "black power", and then protesting against the Vietnam War. As early as 1965, James Forman said he didn’t know “how much longer we can stay nonviolent” and in 1969, SNCC officially changed its name to the Student National Coordinating Committee to reflect the broadening of its strategies. It passed out of existence in the 1970s.



Founding and early years

Inspired by the Greensboro sit-ins, independent student-led groups began direct-action protests against segregation in dozens of southern communities. The most common action of these groups was organizing sit-ins at racially segregated lunch counters to protest the pervasiveness of Jim Crow and other forms of racism. In addition to sitting in at lunch counters, the groups also organized and carried out protests at segregated public libraries, public parks, and public swimming pools. At that time, all those public facilities financed by taxes were closed to blacks. The white response was often to close the facility, rather than integrate it.

SNCC, as an organization, began with an $800 grant from the SCLC for a conference where student activists could share experiences and coordinate activities. Held at Shaw University in April 1960, the conference was attended by 126 student delegates from 58 sit-in centers in 12 states, along with delegates from 19 northern colleges, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), National Student Association (NSA), and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Out of this conference the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was formed.[2][3]

Ella Baker, who organized the Shaw conference, had been the SCLC director before helping to form SNCC, but SNCC was not a branch of SCLC. Instead of being closely tied to SCLC or the NAACP as a "youth division", SNCC sought to stand on its own. Among important SNCC leaders attending the conference were Stokely Carmichael from Howard University; Charles F. McDew, who led student protests at South Carolina State University; J. Charles Jones, who organized 200 students to participate in sit-ins at department stores throughout Charlotte, North Carolina; Julian Bond from Atlanta, Diane Nash; James Lawson; John Lewis; Bernard Lafayette; James Bevel; and Marion Barry from the Nashville Student Movement.

SNCC's first chairman was Marion Barry, who later became the mayor of Washington DC. Barry served as chairman for one year. The second chairman was Charles F. McDew, who served as the chairman from 1961 to 1963, when he was succeeded by John Lewis.[4] SNCC's executive secretary, James Forman, played a major role in running the organization.

In the years that followed, SNCC members were referred to as “shock troops of the revolution."[5] SNCC took on greater risks in 1961, after a mob of Ku Klux Klan members and other whites attacked integrated groups of bus passengers who defied local segregation laws as part of the Freedom Rides organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Rather than allowing mob violence to stop them, CORE and SNCC "Freedom Riders," including Diane Nash, James Bevel, Marion Barry, Angeline Butler, and John Lewis, put themselves at great personal risk by traveling in racially-integrated groups through the deep South. At least 436 people took part in these Freedom Rides during the spring and summer of 1961.[6]

Robert Parris Moses (also known as Robert Parris or Bob Moses) played a central role in transforming SNCC from a coordinating committee of student protest groups to an organization of organizers dedicated to building community-based political organizations of the rural poor. The voter registration project he initiated in McComb, Mississippi in 1961 became the seed for most of SNCC's activities from 1962-1966.

After the Freedom Rides, SNCC worked primarily on voter registration, along with local protests about segregated public facilities. Registering to vote was extremely difficult and dangerous, as blacks who attempted to register often lost their jobs and their homes. SNCC workers lived with local families and often the homes providing such hospitality were firebombed.

The actions of SNCC, CORE, and SCLC forced the Kennedy Administration to briefly provide federal protection to temporarily abate mob violence. Local FBI offices were usually staffed by Southern whites (there were no black FBI agents at that time) who refused to intervene to protect civil rights workers or local blacks who were attempting to register to vote.

One of the ways in which SNCC was unusual among civil rights groups was the way in which decisions were made. Instead of "top down" control, as was the case with most organizations at that time, decisions in SNCC were made by consensus. Group meetings would be convened in which every participant could speak for as long as they wanted and the meeting would continue until everyone was in agreement with the decision. Because activities were often very dangerous and could lead to prison or death, SNCC wanted all participants to support each activity.

By 1965, SNCC fielded the largest staff of any civil rights organization in the South. It had organized nonviolent direct action against segregated facilities, as well as voter-registration projects, in Alabama, Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, Louisiana, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi; built two independent political parties and organized labor unions and agricultural cooperatives; and given the movement for women's liberation new energy. It inspired and trained the activists who began the "New Left." It helped expand the limits of political debate within black America, and broadened the focus of the civil rights movement. Unlike mainstream civil rights groups, which merely sought integration of blacks into the existing order, SNCC sought structural changes in American society itself.
—Julian Bond[1]

March on Washington

SNCC played a signal role in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. While many speakers applauded the Kennedy Administration for the efforts it had made toward obtaining new, more effective civil rights legislation protecting the right to vote and outlawing segregation, John Lewis took the administration to task for how little it had done to protect Southern blacks and civil rights workers under attack in the Deep South. While he toned down his comments under pressure from others in the movement, his words still stung:

"We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of, for hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here — for they have no money for their transportation, for they are receiving starvation wages...or no wages at all. In good conscience, we cannot support the administration's civil rights bill.
This bill will not protect young children and old women from police dogs and fire hoses when engaging in peaceful demonstrations. This bill will not protect the citizens of Danville, Virginia who must live in constant fear in a police state. This bill will not protect the hundreds of people who have been arrested on trumped-up charges like those in Americus, Georgia, where four young men are in jail, facing a death penalty, for engaging in peaceful protest.
I want to know, which side is the federal government on? The revolution is a serious one. Mr. Kennedy is trying to take the revolution out of the streets and put it in the courts. Listen Mr. Kennedy, the black masses are on the march for jobs and for freedom, and we must say to the politicians that there won't be a 'cooling-off period.'"[7]

Voting rights

In 1961 SNCC began expanding its activities from direct-action protests against segregation into other forms of organizing, most notably voter registration. Under the leadership of Bob Moses, SNCC's first voter-registration project was in McComb, Mississippi, an effort suppressed with arrests and savage[citation needed] white violence, resulting in the murder of local activist Herbert Lee. With funding from the Voter Education Project, SNCC expanded its voter registration efforts into the Mississippi Delta around Greenwood, Southwest Georgia around Albany, and the Alabama Black Belt around Selma. All of these projects endured police harassment and arrests; KKK violence including shootings, bombings, and assassinations; and economic terrorism against those blacks who dared to try to register.[8]

In the fall of 1963, SNCC conducted the Freedom Ballot, a mock election in which black Mississippians came out to show their willingness to vote — a right they had been denied for decades, despite the provisions of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, due to a combination of state laws and constitutional provisions, economic reprisals and violence by white authorities and private citizens.

SNCC followed up on the Freedom Ballot with the Mississippi Summer Project, also known as Freedom Summer, which focused on voter registration and Freedom Schools. The Summer Project brought hundreds of white Northern students to the South where they volunteered as teachers and organizers. Their presence brought national press attention to SNCC's work in the south. SNCC organized black Mississippians to register to vote, almost always without success. White authorities either rejected their applications on any pretexts available or, failing that, simply refused to accept their applications.

Mississippi Summer got national attention when three civil rights workers involved in the project, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were lynched after having been released from police custody. Their bodies were eventually found after a reluctant J. Edgar Hoover directed the FBI to search for them. In the process the FBI also found corpses of several other missing black Mississippians, whose disappearances had not attracted public attention outside the Delta.

SNCC also established Freedom Schools to teach children to read and to educate them to stand up for their rights. As in the struggle to desegregate public accommodations led by Martin Luther King, Jr. in Birmingham, Alabama the year before, the bolder attitudes of the children helped shake their parents out of the fear that had paralyzed many of them.

The goal of the Mississippi Summer Project was to organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), an integrated party, to win seats at the 1964 Democratic National Convention for a slate of delegates elected by disfranchised black Mississippians and white sympathizers. The MFDP was, however, tremendously inconvenient for the Johnson Administration. It had wanted to minimize the inroads that Barry Goldwater’s campaign was making into what had previously been the Democratic stronghold of the “Solid South” and the support that George Wallace received during the Democratic primaries in the North.

When the MFDP started to organize a fight over credentials, Johnson originally would not budge. When Fannie Lou Hamer, the leader of the MFDP, was in the midst of testifying about the police beatings of her and others for attempting to exercise their right to vote, Johnson preempted television coverage of the credentials fight. Even so, her testimony created enough uproar that Johnson offered the MFDP a "compromise": they would receive two non-voting seats, while the delegation sent by the official Democratic Party would take its seats.

Johnson used all of his resources, mobilizing Walter Reuther, one of his key supporters within the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, and his Vice-Presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey, to pressure King and other mainstream civil rights leaders to bring the MFDP around, while directing Hoover to put the delegation under surveillance. The MFDP rejected both the compromise and the pressure to accept it, and walked out.

That experience destroyed what little faith SNCC activists had in the federal government, even though Johnson had obtained a broad Civil Rights Act barring discrimination in public accommodations, employment and private education in 1964 and would go on to obtain an equally broad Voting Rights Act in 1965. It also estranged SNCC leaders from many of the mainstream leaders of the civil rights movement.

Those differences carried over into the voting rights struggle that centered on Selma, Alabama in 1965. SNCC had begun organizing black citizens to register to vote in Selma in 1963,[9] but made little headway against the adamant resistance of Sheriff Jim Clark and the White Citizens' Council. In early 1965, local Selma activists asked the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for help, and the two organizations formed an uneasy alliance. They disagreed over tactical and strategic issues, including the SCLC's decision not to attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge a second time after county sheriffs and state troopers attacked them on "Bloody Sunday" on March 7, 1965.

The civil rights activists crossed the bridge on the third attempt, with the aid of a federal court order barring authorities from interfering with the march. It was part of a five-day march to Montgomery, Alabama that helped dramatize the need for a Voting Rights Act. During this period, SNCC activists became more and more disenchanted with nonviolence, integration as a strategic goal, and cooperation with white liberals or the Federal government.

Change in strategy and dissolution

Many within the organization had grown skeptical about the tactics of nonviolence. After the Democratic convention of 1964, the group began to split into two factions  – one favoring a continuation of nonviolent, integration-oriented, redress of grievances within the existing political system, and the other moving towards Black Power and revolutionary ideologies. These differences continued to grow during the Selma Voting Rights campaign.

After the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965, some SNCC members sought to break their ties with the mainstream civil rights movement and the liberal organizations that supported it. They argued instead that blacks needed to build power of their own rather than seek accommodations from the power structure in place. Eventually, the leader of the militant branch, Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture), replaced John Lewis as head of SNCC in May 1966.

Carmichael first argued that blacks should be free to use violence in self-defense, then later he advocated revolutionary violence to overthrow oppression. Carmichael rejected the civil rights legislation that the movement had fought so hard to achieve as mere palliatives. The Department of Defense stated in 1967:

SNCC can no longer be considered a civil rights group. It has become a racist organization with black supremacy ideals and an expressed hatred for whites. It employs violent and militant measures which may be defined as extreme when compared with those of more moderate groups. [10]

Carmichael raised the banner of Black Power in a speech in Greenwood, Mississippi in June 1966. As the mainstream civil rights movement distanced itself from SNCC, SNCC expelled white staff and volunteers, and denounced the whites who had supported it in the past. By early 1967, SNCC was approaching bankruptcy and close to disappearing.

Carmichael left SNCC in June 1967 to join the Black Panther Party. H. Rap Brown, later known as Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, replaced him as the head of SNCC. Brown renamed the group the Student National Coordinating Committee and supported violence, which he described "as American as cherry pie". He resigned from SNCC in 1968, after being indicted for inciting to riot in Cambridge, Maryland in 1967. Brown then became Minister of Justice of the Black Panther Party.

Brown also proposed violence against violence if the power structure in the US did not change its racist actions against Blacks. He was targeted by the FBI and incarcerated without legal representation during 1968-1969. The government indicted Brown to make an example of him, despite a lack of proper evidence.[citation needed]

By then, SNCC was no longer an effective organization. It largely disappeared in the early 1970s, although chapters in communities such as San Antonio, Texas continued for several more years. Mario Marcel Salas, field secretary of the SNCC chapter in San Antonio operated until 1976. The San Antonio SNCC chapter was part Black Panther Party and part SNCC. Dr. Charles Jones of Atlanta State University termed it a "hybrid organization" because it had panther-style survival programs. Salas also worked closely with La Raza Unida Party, running for political office and organizing demonstrations to expose discrimination against Blacks and Latinos. Salas later helped in the liberation of the island of Grenada from the dictator Eric Gairy in 1979, and became the chairman of the Free Nelson Mandela Movement in San Antonio Texas.

SNCC has begun again at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky.[11]

SNCC and feminism

SNCC activist Bernice Johnson Reagon described the Civil Rights Movement as the "borning movement" of the 1960s.[12] The Womens' Liberation Movement was one of the many movements born out of and inspired by the Civil Rights Movement. SNCC consisted of mostly college-age activists, and therefore provided opportunities for young women. Participation in organizations such as SNCC essentially marked the beginning of second-wave feminism in the US, which focused on changing social inequalities as opposed to the previous focus on legal issues in first-wave feminism. The influence of the Civil Rights movement also introduced mass protests and awareness campaigns as the main methods to obtain sexual equality.

Many black women held prominent positions in the movement as a result of their participation in SNCC. Some of these women include Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, Donna Richards, Fay Bellamy, Gwen Patton, Cynthia Washington, Jean Wiley, Muriel Tillinghast, Fannie Lou Hamer, Annie Pearl Avery, Diane Nash, Ella Baker, Victoria Gray, Unita Blackwell, Bettie Mae Fikes, Joyce Ladner, Dorie Ladner, Gloria Richardson, Bernice Reagon, Prathia Hall, Connie Curry, Judy Richardson, Ruby Sales, Endesha Ida Mae Holland, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Anne Moody.

Anne Moody published her autobiography, Coming of Age in Mississippi, in 1970, detailing her decision to participate in SNCC and later CORE, and her experience as a woman in the movement. She described the widespread trend of black women to become involved with SNCC at their educational institutions. As young college students or teachers, these black women were often heavily involved in grassroots campaign by teaching Freedom Schools and promoting voter registration.[13]

Young white women also became very involved with SNCC, particularly after the Freedom Summer of 1964. Many northern white women were inspired by the ideology of racial equality. The book Deep in Our Hearts details the experiences of nine white women in SNCC. Some white women, such as Mary King, Connie Curry, and Casey Hayden, and Latino women such as Mary Varela and Elizabeth Sutherland Martinez, were able to obtain status and leadership within SNCC.[14].[15]

Through organizations like SNCC, women of both races were becoming more politically active than at any time in American history since the Women's suffrage movement. A group of women in SNCC who were later identified as Mary King and Casey Hayden openly challenged the way women were treated when they issued the “SNCC Position Paper (Women in the Movement).”[16] The paper was published anonymously, helping King and Hayden to avoid unwanted attention.[14] The paper listed 11 events in which women were treated as subordinate to men. According to the paper, women in SNCC did not have a chance to become the face of the organization, the top leaders, because they were assigned to clerical and housekeeping duties, whereas men were involved in decision-making. The degree and significance of male-domination and women's subordination was hotly debated within SNCC; many of SNCC's black women disputed the premise that women were denied leadership roles.[17]

When Stokely Carmichael took over the leadership of SNCC from John Lewis, he essentially reoriented the path of SNCC towards Black Power. He famously said in a speech, “it is a call for black people to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations.”[18] Thus, white women lost their influence and power in SNCC; Mary King and Casey Hayden left SNCC to become active in pursuing equality for women. They co-authored Sex and Caste: A Kind of Memo, which later became an influential piece in feminism.[19] As SNCC turned its focus to Black Power, black women also lost their voice and became subject to the already-existing patriarchal structure of the organization. The limited opportunities for women from the original community-building ideology were erased by the usurping Black Power movement, in which power was more centralized in the hands of the male-dominated top leadership.

Former SNCC member Kathleen Cleaver played a key role in the central committee of the Black Panther Party as communications secretary (1968). Her position in this "male dominated" leadership was both effective and influential to Brown, Red and Yellow Power groups of the late 1960s and early 1970s.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ a b Bond, Julian (October 2000), "SNCC: What We Did", Monthly Review,;col1 
  2. ^ Clayborne Carson, In Struggle, SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s: Harvard University Press, 1981
  3. ^ Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Founded ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  4. ^ Lewis, John (1998). Walking With the Wind. Simon & Schuster. 
  5. ^ Bruce J. Dierenfield, The Civil Rights Movement, Harlow, England: Pearson Education Limited, 2004.
  6. ^ Freedom Rides ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  7. ^ March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  8. ^ History & Timeline ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  9. ^ Selma – Cracking the Wall of Fear ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  10. ^ Stokely Carmichael and SNCC - Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)
  11. ^ Society of Porter Scholars Homepage; University of Louisville
  12. ^ Payne, Charles (1995). I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle. University of California Press. 
  13. ^ Coming of Age in Mississippi, Anne Moody
  14. ^ a b Personal Politics, Sara Evans
  15. ^ Curry et al., Constance (2002). Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement. University of Georgia Press. 
  16. ^ SNCC position paper: Women in the Movement, Anonymous
  17. ^ Women & Men in the Freedom Movement ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
  18. ^ Stokely Carmichael, 1967
  19. ^ Mary King, Casey Hayden, Sex and Caste: A Kind of Memo

External links

Further reading



  • Pardun, Robert. Prairie Radical: A Journey Through the Sixties. California: Shire Press. 2001. 376 pages. ISBN 0-918828-20-1
  • Carmichael, Stokely, et al. Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture). Scribner (15 February 2005) 848 pages. ISBN 0-684-85004-4.
  • Carson, Claybourne. In Struggle, SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1981. ISBN 0-674-44727-1.
  • Forman, James. The Making of Black Revolutionaries, 1985 and 1997, Open Hand Publishing, Washington D.C. (ISBN 0-295-97659-4) and (ISBN 0-940880-10-5)
  • Greenberg, Cheryl Lynn, ed. A Circle of Trust: Remembering SNCC. Rutgers University Press (1 February 1998). 274 pages. ISBN 0-8135-2477-6.
  • Halberstam, David The Children, Ballantine Books. 1999. ISBN 0449004392.
  • Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement, Univ of Georgia Press, 2002
  • Hogan, Wesley C. How democracy travels: SNCC, Swarthmore students, and the growth of the student movement in the North, 1961-1964.
  • Lewis, John. Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1998.
  • Salas, Mario Marcel. Masters Thesis: "Patterns of Persistence: Paternal Colonialist Structures and the Radical Opposition in the African American Community in San Antonio, Texas,1937-2001, by Mario Marcel Salas, University of Texas at San Antonio, John Peace Library 6900 Loop 1604, San Antonio, Texas, 2002. Other SNCC material located in historical records at the Institute of Texan Cultures, University of Texas at San Antonio as part of the Mario Marcel Salas historical record.
  • Sellers, Cleveland and Robert Terrell. The River of No Return: The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC. University Press of Mississippi; Reprint edition (1 November 1990). 289 pages. ISBN 0-87805-474-X.
  • Zinn, Howard. SNCC: The New Abolitionists. Boston: Beacon Press. 1964. ISBN 0-89608-679-8


  • Interviews with civil rights workers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Stanford University Project South oral history collection. Microfilming Corp. of America. 1975. ISBN 0-88455-990-4.

SNCC publications and documents

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